Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Gloucester full-back Jason Woodward presses case for England place

My thoughts for The Times on Gloucester's European Challenge Cup semi-final win over Newcastle Falcons.

He threw a couple of rash early passes, but after that it was a supremely eye-catching display by Gloucester full-back Jason Woodward, whose pace onto the ball, lines of running and off-loading dexterity were all top class.

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With Bath's Anthony Watson sidelined for six months by a torn Achilles sustained against Ireland in the Six Nations, the door is surely now more than ajar for New Zealand-born Woodward to tour South Africa with England this summer, not least because his attacking mentality is similar to Watson's.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

James Simpson-Daniel: Johan Ackermann has turned Gloucester pack around

James Simpson-Daniel believes European Champions Cup rugby next season is within Gloucester's reach - but claims a top-four finish is likely to be beyond the club.

Former Gloucester wing Simpson-Daniel believes new head coach Johan Ackermann is giving the Cherry and Whites' pack more bite, but says they remain a little short in depth in the outside backs.

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“Johan inherited a side that’s been coming in the bottom three for the last few seasons, but Ed Slater has been a great signing and that doggedness up front has won them games," said Simpson-Daniel.

“Ackermann’s judgement has been spot on. He’s focusing on building a bigger, nastier pack.

“It’s a shame Ross Moriarty is leaving but Ruan Ackermann is very similar to Ross, and the good thing is Johan is using youngsters like Jake Polledri and keeping them in the team to reward them for their good performances.”

‘Sinbad’ now believes that European Champions Cup rugby is within Gloucester’s sights.

“A side finishing in the top six is structured around winning at home and picking up some points on the road, and I think that is happening,” said Simpson-Daniel.

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“As for top four, no, I don’t think Gloucester are title contenders yet.”

Since Jonny May’s departure to Leicester on the eve of the new season, Simpson-Daniel believes Gloucester have been light at wing - a situation that has not been helped by recent shoulder injuries to Ollie Thorley and Henry Purdy.

“It’s an area where Gloucester are less strong,” said Simpson-Daniel. “It’s an understatement to say that when Jonny decided to leave it wasn’t ideal timing.

“Gloucester were left behind in strength and depth in that position."

James Simpson Daniel was playing at the PokerStars Festival London. Join the world's most popular online poker sites at PokerStars and visit BetStars News for a full Six Nations preview.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Gary Gold: Alan Solomons has got Worcester Warriors playing attacking rugby again

Worcester will attack their way to Aviva Premiership survival, says boss Gary Gold.

Director of rugby Gold says the arrival of assistant coach Alan Solomons in mid-October has resulted in the Warriors refocusing on their attacking game.

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The hugely experienced Solomons – like Gold, a former South Africa assistant coach – was appointed on a short-term contract, and immediately identified that Worcester should forego a policy of defence-first and instead play more expansively.

The first fruits of that policy were shown on November 18, when an impressive display saw the Warriors chalk up their first league win of the season with a bonus-pointdefeat of Northampton.

And Gold says opposition sides and supporters can expect more of the same attacking brio from the Warriors.

Gold said: “During our games in Europe and the Anglo-Welsh Cup, we didn’t think our processes were going in the right direction – the balance wasn’t right.

“We’d gone too much away from our strength, which is our attack and wanting to score tries.

“When Alan came in it was an observation that he made which was really helpful and it moved the pendulum a bit, and against Northampton you could see that it looked like the guys wanted to score tries.”

The attacking philosophy of Solomons, who has also coached Ulster, Southern Kings and Edinburgh, is going down well with the Warriors’ former New Zealand Sevens star Bryce Heem, who scored a hat-trick against Saints.

“With the players we’ve got in our backline, every player is dangerous,” said winger Heem. “We’re not going to run everything from everywhere, but when it’s time to go we’ll take it and we’ve got the skillset to do it.

“Alan’s guided from a bit of a backseat and the coaches who are already in position have been doing their thing.

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“His impact has helped us attack a bit more, realise when there are opportunities, and take them.”

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Sports Journalism: Ethical Vacuum or Ethical Minefield?

Sports journalism and ethics - strange bedfellows, you say? Possibly. But it's important they get together and have a catch up from time to time.

Think about the exposure of cheat-on-wheels Lance Armstrong and his drug-fuelled haul of syringe-tainted Tour de France titles. Think about the fall of plutocrat-cum-football administrator Sepp Blatter. Think about the odour - often less than fragrant - that attaches itself to the Olympics movement and the organisation of other mega, dollar-drenched sports jamborees. Without decent, thoughtful, duty-driven sports journalists, these important stories and issues just wouldn't get covered in the way that the public deserves. And only the hubristic would suggest that the industry doesn't still fall short on occasion.

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The Institute of Communication Ethics’ annual conference - Sports Journalism: Ethical Vacuum or Ethical Minefield? - has been pulled together by myself and Dr Daragh Minogue from the University of St Mary’s, Twickenham. What's exciting is that the conference has a truly international flavour, with academics and sports journalists from Australia, Spain and the United Kingdom all delivering papers. The keynote address will be made by Andy Cairns, executive editor of Sky Sports News.

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Sports journalism - like any industry - has its ethical dilemmas and tensions, but these dilemmas and tensions often aren't properly acknowledged, either within the profession or outside of it. During the course of my own work, I have been confronted by a number of ethical issues, ranging from disagreements with editors around issues of sensationalism and issues of representation to potential complicity with sources.

As a sports journalist, I know that the road of sports journalism is paved with the occasional ethical trip-wire. But while news journalism and news journalists receive frequent ethical scrutiny, sports journalism is often overlooked. That's why I'm doing a PhD on it, and why - on October 27 - we're organising an event where sports journalists and academics from around the world will converge at the Frontline Club in London to talk about the industry's ethics. 

Debate in London will cover everything from clickbait and codes of practice to the issues of self-censorship and sports journalists’ relationships with their sources. 

So, what duties, if any, do sports journalists have? I think a distinction needs to be drawn between the ‘on-diary’ activities of sports journalists - such as attending matches and press conferences - and what might be termed ‘off-diary', issues-based sports journalism. The practitioners of both have their responsibilities, but I think sports journalism can too often be fixated on the on-diary at the expense of the deeper journalism provided through the latter. I term this “ball watching” - by literally focusing on where the literal ball is on the field, journalists can metaphorically “take their eye off the ball” in terms of monitoring the deeper issues affecting the sport they are covering. It is the off-diary activities that provide the stories that have the most powerful effect on society. For a couple of examples in the UK, consider David Walsh's pursuit of Lance Armstrong, and Andrew Jennings' exposure of corruption at FIFA.

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As sport becomes more powerful, both in terms of economic power and cultural dominance, it is essential that sports journalists perform a watchdog function that holds the powerful institutions and people involved in sport to account. There is certainly no excuse for sports journalists to see themselves - or to be seen by others - as “fans with typewriters”, which is the old cliche about sports writers. The gathering in London next week will hopefully go some way to abolishing this caricature.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Dave Attwood: Bath's lack of trophies is increasingly frustrating

A frustrated Dave Attwood says Bath must stop “hinting and teasing” at what they can achieve and instead finally deliver silverware.

The West Country side have not won a trophy since lifting the European Challenge Cup in 2008, with a loss at Sale on the final day of the regular season ending any hopes of the club salvaging a place in the Premiership play-offs.

After spending five trophy-less seasons at The Rec, lock forward Attwood admits to an increasing sense of disappointment.

Bath were riding high in the league table prior to Christmas, but a lack of consistency saw them gradually fall off the Premiership pace.

And Attwood admits the formula that will give the club the necessary consistency remains elusive.

Bath have had four different bosses since Attwood joined the club in 2011 – Sir Ian McGeechan, Gary Gold, Mike Ford and now Todd Blackadder – and Attwood believes such churn has hindered the side’s fortunes.

“As a club, we are capable and should be achieving play-off rugby, finals and we should be aiming for silverware every season,” 30-year-old Attwood said.

“It’s increasingly frustrating from my point of view.

“We certainly don’t have the answer to what it is that will produce the consistency. We’ll have to keep kicking on and hopefully the process will give us the answer.”

Since Attwood moved to Bath from Gloucester in 2011, Bath were defeated finalists in the Challenge Cup in 2014 and Premiership runners-up to Saracens in 2015.

“We’re on the fourth coach since I’ve been here and that doesn’t help,” he said. “The turnover of the squad has been quite dramatic and there have been a number of other factors that have contributed.

“We’re trying to be very specific about what we are trying to fix. Sometimes it’s strategy, sometimes it’s emotional.

“Trying to put your finger on the recipe is difficult but a number of teams have managed to do it – look at the Bath of years ago, Wasps, Leicester and now Sarries.

“We’ve struggled to find it. A few times we’ve teased that we are there. Hopefully it’s a matter of time before it clicks and it lasts for a whole season.”

Attwood’s season was marred by a niggling knee injury that kept him out for four months, with the 24-cap England forward only returning for Bath’s Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Stade Francais.

“Four months out with an unfortunate injury which was teasing me with the promise of fitness but not delivering was very frustrating,” he said.

“It reflects what’s gone on with the season as a whole at the club, where we’ve hinted and teased at what we can deliver.”

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Jim Mallinder: why aren't we using Television Match Officials?

My latest piece for The Times, in which Northampton Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder ponders the use (or non-use) of the TMO by referee Wayne Barnes in the Saints' last-minute 32-20 loss at Bath.